Officials on both sides of the Taiwan Strait have recently been calling for the resumption of talks on reunification after a long hiatus.
Talks between Li Yafei and Jan Jyh-horng, representatives of China’s Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait (ARATS) and Taiwan’s Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF) respectively, began on April 23, 1998.
In their first meetings they agreed to hold future meetings between the heads of the two organizations, Wang Daohan and Koo Chen-fu. China’s desire to resume talks was made public after the January visit of an American military delegation to the region. William J. Perry, former Secretary of Defense, conveyed China’s message to Taiwan’s authorities.
A major factor in preventing the resumption of negotiations has been Beijing’s insistence that Taiwan recognize Beijing as the government of China and Taiwan. This position stems from the one-China policy which states that people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait recognize that there is one China and that Taiwan is a part of it. In an effort to reignite talks on reunification, Beijing stated that it will drop the condition and define "China" as a cultural entity, rather than by geographic boundaries.
While both sides support the resumption of talks, their approaches differ. Beijing is interested in political matters such as reunification, while Taipei suggests that the talks begin with technical issues such as fishery rights and the return of hijackers.
Even though tensions across the strait have eased considerably in the past few months, both sides have accused each other of adding to the Asian financial crisis by devaluing their currencies in the past. Taiwan’s attempts to improve its international standing in Southeast Asia by assisting its beleaguered neighbors are regarded as provocative in Beijing as well.
Developments in domestic politics on both sides of the strait have also altered the situation. The return of Hong Kong to China and the consolidation of power by President Jiang Zemin at the NPC are thought by some to have heightened China’s desire for reunification with Taiwan.
On the other side of the strait, the growing strength of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which supports Taiwan’s independence, may indicate a diminished interest in such talks. The current situation signals an improvement in relations, although the outcome of the talks is still uncertain.
Some experts expect the talks to continue but to fail ultimately. Neither side seems interested in addressing the question at this time, but does not want to appear to be "dragging its feet."
American policy and sentiment seem to be divided on the issue. The Clinton Administration fully supports the resumption of talks, a position that is consistent with the one-China policy and recent efforts to improve bilateral ties between the United States and China.
However, Congressional support for Taiwan as a small democracy remains strong. Under Republican leadership several pieces of legislation have been put forward that seek to apply various types of sanctions to China for human rights abuses and the dissemination of nuclear technology and weapons of mass destruction. Other bills favor amending the Taiwan Relations Act to elevate it above the three communiqués signed with China.
Some claim that American legislation such as the measures described above, has strengthened the island’s pro-independence movement and reduced interest in reunification talks.
In this way, contradictions between branches of the U.S. government also have an impact on the resumption of talks between the two sides and their outcome.
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